Cecil Frank Whiting 1891-1916
Cecil Frank in his uniform
Cecil's grave at Mailly Wood Cemetery.
Parents: Frank Whiting and Priscilla Iron.
Born: 28th March 1891 at 1 Duddery Road, Haverhill.(1,2)
Baptised: 6th July 1891 at Old Independent Church, Haverhill.(2)
Died: 17th November 1916 at Battle of the Somme. Buried at Grave I.C.19, Mailly Wood Cemetery.(3)
Bio: Cecil Frank was born at 1 Duddery Road, Haverhill in 1891 and his father Frank is listed as a milkman in the Old Independent Church register, although the 1891 census lists him as a farm stockman. Cecil Frank was 2 months old at this point.
On the 1911 census, Frank and Priscilla and their three sons are living on the old Brentwood road near Garlesters Farm in Bulphan, Romford, Essex.
Frank, Cecil and Stanley are cowmen on a farm. A boarder, Albert Cole, 20, groom, is also living with them.
Cecil Frank Whiting joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as Gunner 67865 at the onset of the Great War, being the first brother to join up. His younger brother Stanley recalled how he had looked up to his tough elder brother when they had been farm hands and 'revelled in the story of a bad tempered bull which had attacked him as a boy and which his brother had promptly grabbed by the tail, giving it so savage a twist that it never attacked anyone again' In telling this to his son Gerald, Stanley apparently altered the bit of the bulls anatomy that was grabbed to suit his young audience! (7)
Brothers Stanley and John joined the navy in 1916 and went on to see wartime activity themselves.
It was in this same year that Cecil took part in the heavy fighting near Beaumont Hamel, and on 14th and 15th November his battery were supplying massive barrages in support of the allied attack. 'A typical rate of fire was 1091 rounds (one every four minutes from each gun) overnight on 14th/15th'.(7)
During this episode serving with the 91st Siege Battery, Cecil met his death in a tragic accident.
There are conflicting reports of the actual day that Cecil met his death. The War Graves Commission give it as the 17th November 1916. However, extract of a war diary kept by Sgt Richard Green state he was killed on the 15th and buried on the 16th.(7) Whichever it was, the details of what actually happened are consistent.
A poignant account of Cecil's last days comes from the memories of his cousin Harry (although he was son of Henry Whiting, Harry was a cousin of Cecil by virtue of his mother Eliza being the sister of Cecil's mother Priscilla) who also served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and who actually got to see him just before he was killed.
'I had a surprise a few days later, my cousin had heard that my battery (100th Siege Battery RGA) was in Armentieres and had come to see me. He told me his battery, the 91st Siege, were only four miles away, so I cycled to see him. When I arrived they told me they were on the move, but did not know where, but I found out afterwards it was to Narlly Harlette [Mailly-Maillet]. Their guns were 9.2 howitzers, and when they got to their new position they went into action all night. He was not on duty. In the morning one of his mates asked him if he would take his place for a short time while he had a cup of tea and a bite to eat, as the crew was ordered to stand by while the gun cooled down. Evidently it had been loaded and the charge put in, and being hot it blew up and killed all the gun crew. I cycled over and saw some of his battery mates and they told me all that had happened.'(4)
It appears that Cecil's death was a result of the kind of unfortunate accident that seemed an all-too regular occurrence during wartime, and this is confirmed in the history of the 91st Siege Battery written by it's commanding officer Major W F Christian:
'1916 November 17- MAILLY MAILLET - Firing continued through the day. There have not been two short pauses of less than half an hour since 5.45 a.m. in 13 hours.
4 p.m. - At about 4 .p.m. the breach block of No 2 Gun blew out killing Corp. Clemans the No 1 and Gunners Ritchie and Whiting. Flt. Coursey the section commander was slightly wounded in the eye.'(6)
A later entry explains more about what happened.
'1916 December 1 - On December 1st we celebrated our first birthday. Lieut. Coursey returned, having recovered from his wound.
The blowing out of the breech of No. 2 gun was investigated, but no definite conclusion was formed as to its cause. A change of target had been ordered when the gun was loaded with a full charge round. It was necessary to fire a reduced charge at the new target and the No. 2 was opening the breech to take out the full charge, when it went off for some unknown reason. At the moment of the explosion only the two front threads of the breech screw were engaged in the breech as they were shorn off. The block was blown about 500 yards to the rear of the gun and the shell remained firmly wedged in the bore about four feet from the muzzle and refused to be moved by any mechanical means that could be devised.'(6)
The other men killed in the incident along with Cecil Whiting were Corporal Arthur Clemans, no.30347, a professional soldier aged 28, and Gunner Richard Alexander Ritchie, no.64393, aged 22.
The medal rolls at National Archives(5) confirm Harry's reference to Cecil's battalion as the 91st. By the time of his death, the rest of his family must have moved to 17 Barry Road, Stonebridge Park, Willesden, as this address is mentioned on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.(3)
Cecil Frank Whiting is buried at Mailly Wood cemetery, Mailly-Maillet, Somme, France. Grave ref: I.C.19.(3)
Thanks to Crispin Whiting, grandson of Cecil's brother Stanley, for the picture of Cecil and a wealth of valuable information about Cecil and his brothers wartime involvement which I hope to utilize on their upcoming pages. Also thanks to Crispin's father Gerald Whiting 1928-2012 for the extracts from 'Whitings at War', his account of his father and uncle's exploits during the first world war.
Thanks to Matt Whiting for the photo of Cecil Frank Whiting in uniform.
Thanks to Mick McCann of www.britishwargraves.co.uk for kind permission to use the photo.
Thanks to Bob Revie for the extract from Harry Whiting's account of the First World War.
Thanks also to Mike Reeve for extracts from the 91st Siege Battery diary.
(1) Birth Register. 2nd Quarter 1891, Risbridge District, Volume 4a Page 720
(2) Haverhill Independent Church baptisms, http://www.haverhill-uk.com/genealogy/baptisms/haverhill_independant_church_baptisms.shtml
(4) Harry Whiting (b.1895), first-hand account of the Great War, p18. Bob Revie.
(5) National Archives, WO329/270, Medal Rolls of the Royal Garrison Artillery.
(6) 'History of the 91st (Siege) Battery, R.G.A. December, 1915 to 11 November, 1918', Major W F Christian, Tynemouth, 1920
(7) 'Whitings at War', Gerald Whiting, January 2002, p2. Courtesy of Crispin Whiting.